In 1946 postwar Houston experienced tremendous growth, resulting in an influx of new residents and an increased need for assistance by those in underserved areas. Among the new arrivals were many newly married young women who, by the standards of the day did not work outside of the home. They wanted to broaden their horizons through service work and new friendships. The stage was set for the development of the Houston Junior Forum.
Mary Dungan Cooper moved to Houston from Dallas where she had been a member of the Junior Department of the Dallas Woman’s Forum. She contacted Mrs. Roy Rowntree, president of the newly formed Houston Woman’s Forum, about the possibility of starting a Junior Department in Houston. After attending a Woman’s Forum meeting, Mrs. Cooper, along with Mrs. Rowntree, invited a few interested friends to meet.
- A “dream team” of 22 young women and their mentor embraced a vision of community service that became the Houston Junior Forum.
- The first independent project was with the Mexican-American community on the east side of Houston.
- HJF opened and staffed a library along with four schools at the New Rusk-St. Charles Settlement House.
- Educational Nursery
- Full-scale program for Adults, Teens, and Children
Community House Preschool
As Forum members filled the libraries at the Rusk-St. Charles Settlement House, The Anson Jones, Brackenridge, Lubbock, and Lamar schools with books and participated in the library programming, they realized that many of the young children in the community they served needed to learn English. This realization inspired the Forum to begin a nursery school where English could be taught along with academic, health, and social programs.
- HJF opened a nursery school in the DeZavala Park
- Preschool was expanded, new facility built near Houston Ship Channel
As of May 2009, more than 3,000 children had graduated from the preschool. As numerous resources for comprehensive preschool education became available in the community, the operation of the Community House Preschool was re-evaluated. The school was closed at the end of May 2009.
Recreation Center for Older Adults (RCOA)
In the early 1960s, members Elaine Fuller and Martha Sumners recognized the existing need for senior adult services in Houston as they faced the need for having to care for aging parents and grandparents. They influenced HJF to launch a program for seniors.
Services provided included low-cost hot lunches prepared onsite, classes in weaving, bridge, painting, dance and crafts, exercise, ceramics, computers, beading, needlework, quilting, sewing, and the Lifelong Learning lecture series. A gift shop was maintained to offer clients a venue for selling items they created in classes.
Several clients also provided entertainment as members of a senior band called the “Swinging Strings.” HJF volunteers were involved in all aspects of teaching and managing the services of the center with the assistance of a professional director. In summer of 2004 senior services closed due to low participation at RCOA.
Currently, HJF members serve senior adults in a variety of locations in partnership with several Houston organizations.
- Donation of the Helena House Building and $1,000 from Anderson Foundation grant
- HJF members and spouses remodeled the MD Anderson lab into Helena House Recreation Center for Senior Citizens.
- Along with Sheltering Arms, started a program.
- With center open three days a week and volunteers serving refreshments.
- The City of Houston granted HJF a 30 year lease on a one acre site on West Dallas for expansion for Helena House Senior Recreation
- HJF designed and built a facility, The Recreation Center for Older Adults.
- HJF Volunteers were all involved in all aspects of teaching and managing the services of the center with the assistance of a professional director.
- Lease renewal in 1998 with doors open five days a week.
Senior Guidance Program/Directory
A telephone information and referral service for senior adults and their caregivers. Staffed by trained volunteers and a professional director, the Program was recognized throughout the City of Houston for its standard of excellence in connecting senior adults and caregivers with resources that helped them meet the challenges of growing older. The Senior Guidance Program was completely computerized, allowing volunteers to quickly access information for the over 10,000 calls received annually. Unique to Senior Guidance was its callback program which provided ongoing assistance to a caregiver or senior via telephone until their area of concern was fully resolved. The Senior Guidance Program also obtained the services of attorneys who provided legal assistance for the clients on a pro bono basis. The program was moved to the United Way in 2016.
- With help of Isla Carroll Turner Trust, the Senior Guidance Program was an information and referral service for senior adults and caregivers.
- Connecting Senior adults and care-givers with resources
- The Senior Guidance Program produced the Senior Guidance Directory, a Resource for Senior Adults and Their Caregivers.
- Opened 5 days a week, serving over 200 people a day.
- Senior Guidance Program produced the Senior Guidance Directory, a Resource for Senior Adults and their Caregivers. The Directory provided help annually to at least half a million seniors and their caregivers.
- HJF volunteers continued to provide service to the program until 2014.
- The United Way of Houston’s Care for Elders program assumed responsibility for the directory in 2016.
HJF Resale Shop Program
Since 1969, HJF has owned and operated a resale shop which has provided a service for its customers and funds to support HJF programs. The first shop, Poco Dinero, was a success from the beginning. In 1977 HJF bought a Victorian home at 828 Heights Boulevard to house the expanding project. Again in 1986, the shop outgrew its boundaries. HJF purchased and renovated the 10,500 square-foot Heights Post Office building on Rutland Street in the Heights, hosting its grand opening the Houston Junior Form Resale Shop in 1987. Today the upscale Resale Shop is open six days a week, with paid staff assisting HJF volunteers. Profits from the shop support the College Scholarship Program and the Community Grants Program, as well as the operating budget of HJF.
- HJF has owned and operated a resale shop since 1969. The first shop, Poco Dinero, was a success!
- HJF bought a Victorian home at 828 Heights Boulevard to house the expanding project.
- The shop outgrew its boundaries
- HJF purchased and renovated the 10,500 square-foot old Heights Post Office building on Rutland Street in the Heights
- Karen’s Korner – A chic boutique discount corner in the warehouse
- We continue to offer treasures for everyone from high end items to drastically discounted items as well as serve as a community gathering place for patrons to visit daily.
2018-2019 HJF College Scholarship Recipients
College Scholarship Program
The College Scholarship Program benefits the best qualified high school graduates who graduated from the HJF Community House Preschool. Award recipients continue to receive support for up to four years if Program requirements are fulfilled. College Scholarship Committee members maintain contact with each recipient throughout the year.
Since its inception in 1976, the College Scholarship Program has awarded over $2,000,000 MM in scholarships, benefiting 300+ Community House Preschool graduates. With the support of their families and their individual HJF College Scholarship Committee Coordinator, recipients have become a part of a tradition of higher education that will enrich their lives and those of future generations.
Beginning with the College Scholarships granted for the 2024-2025 academic year, the College Scholarship program has expanded to include applicants from the Nehemiah Center and Spring Spirit.
Community Grants Program
Originally, grant monies were restricted to benefit organizations with which the Houston Junior Forum had a volunteer relationship (HJF-approved service sites).
Within two years, continued and successful fundraising efforts allowed the Community Grants Program to expand the scope of giving. With the approval of the membership, the HJF Community Grants Program moved forward to provide grant awards to benefit not only HJF service sites but also other nonprofit organizations with missions aligned to that of HJF. Expanding the scope of the Community Grants Program provided opportunities for Houston Junior Forum to partner with other entities that share a common philanthropic ideal and thereby increase assistance to the community.
Since its inception, the Houston Junior Forum Community Grants Program has there-by awarded almost $1,000,000 and has been instrumental in helping nonprofits assist thousands of children, youth, women, and seniors.
- HJF establishes Community Grants in the fall
2011 to Present
- Since 2011, the Community Grants Program has awarded $470,203 in financial support to numerous non-profit organizations which align with the HJF mission.
Houston Junior Forum Endowment Fund, Inc.
The HJF Endowment Fund invests, and manage contributions given to the corporation to specifically provide financial support and assistance to the Houston Junior Form, Inc. in fulfilling its charitable purposes in the community.
- Houston Junior Forum Endowment Fund, Inc. established
- Endowment Board composed of seven members (Trustees) appointed yearly for a three-year term
- The HJF President and the HJF Treasurer serve as ex-officio members for one Year.
- The historical total of Houston Endowment, Inc. grants to the Houston Junior Forum, Inc. in support of its charitable purposes reached $721,000 in 2020.
The Presidents’ Skirts
The Presidents’ Skirt is an honored tradition of the Houston Junior Forum. Friends of the third president, Elizabeth Bracewell, made a skirt for her to wear to a “Fiesta” themed fundraiser. Inspiration was taken from the highly decorative “china poblana” ensemble worn in traditional dances of Mexico. As the idea caught on, each president received a skirt. Skirts were made of velvet, trimmed with satin and decorated with sequined chintz appliqued in a design.
The tradition continues in the present day with each HJF President being honored for her leadership with an amazing one-of-a-kind skirt that is truly a work of art and a labor of love. Today’s skirts are conceived as original art in a theme favored by the president. The elaborate designs are covered in sequins and beads, and then applied to a custom fitted velvet skirt. Completing a skirt can require months of detailed needlework by over 20 volunteers. The intricate beading and fabric applique result in skirts which may weight over 20 pounds. The president may also have a blouse or jacket made in a coordinating fabric. Several presidents had jackets in matching velvet made for their husbands. It is a distinct pleasure to see these skirts worn at galas and fundraising events.
The skirt tradition is a tangible expression of the close friendship and support that HJF members have for their leadership team and for each other.